Saturday, July 05, 2008

"The Challenge: Welcoming Nonbelievers While Emphasizing One True Path"

This is the headline of an article in the WSJ Thursday (July 3). It describes the findings of a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. The issue, as expressed by a Rev. Mark Roessler of Tucson, Ariz., is how "to be real inclusve - 'Ya'll come!' - but real exclusive on how you get to heaven."

Our church has dipped into the "seeker-friendly" tool-box. That box includes, according to the WSJ article "the permissive dress-code . . . the 'message' (never sermons) . . . the hard-rocking nine-piece jazzed up praise bands . . . the Starbucks cart that sits in the lobby (and the fact that worshippers can take their nonfat lattes into the pews."

Our praise band is two pieces and some singers, with no "hard" rock. And Van's sermons are always true to the Gospel and never stray into "buoyant, hip and dedicated to self-help themes, rather than theology." But we do want to make it easy to come into the worship service.

We are not exactly growing, but I think the service is a great improvement over what it had become before Van came: music directors whom we could afford and attract, but who didn't know how to play the organ and were from other or no religious traditions, choir members who looked very old, sang very old, and, the real problem, still lived in a 1950s world. The worship service core leadership before Van were folks who thought of the worship service not as a portal for those outside the church but as a refuge from all the change that life was throwing at the members. We are much improved, I think, though we could do better. Now there is the coffee and an uncompromised Gospel.

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